The Portland area's future depends on a sustained and balanced regional economy - one that both private and public interests invest in strategically and consistently. Such an economy must relevantly benefit the livelihood of businesses and local residents and help pay for needed public services.
Does Portland have the necessary regional strategy to maintain this type of economy?
The answer, unfortunately, is 'no.'
The region does have a variety of private-sector and public-sector economic plans. Many are largely volunteer driven and are the product of a collection of local business associations such as the Portland Business Alliance, the Regional Partners or the Westside Economic Alliance. These plans are showing uneven results even as the economy recovers. They are further hampered by a reliance on busy volunteers and limited staff funding.
Along the way, the importance of these strategic economic plans has been poorly communicated to average citizens, who pollsters will tell you are most concerned about their own personal economic future and their children's future.
These inconsistent efforts toward economic development are insufficient. The Portland region is in an economic race with regions across the United States and the world. It is a race that the Portland area will lose without making significant changes. And if it's lost, people - not just businesses - will suffer.
Included in today's Times, we publish Rethinking Portland, an examination of the regional economy through the eyes of business people, government officials and average citizens. We look at what is working and what isn't. We find that some U.S. communities are surpassing Portland by investing in forward-thinking economic and community outcomes.
Here are several immediate, needed initiatives:
- The business community must develop, lead and invest in measurable economic outcomes that are strategically planned and consistently executed.
- Government must actively foster a climate in which businesses and employment can thrive by enacting policies, programs and tax structures that support the economy and the retention and creation of jobs. This is not a call for lip service, but action. After all, jobs generate income. And income taxes support government services.
- The business community must routinely and relevantly communicate with local residents to convey why the economy matters to citizens.
- Linkages and investments must be made between the economy, transportation, education, land use, recreation and quality of life. This chance exists right now as the state and the region plan the future of land use, education and transportation. To date, however, there is only modest understanding about these connections and core citizen values.
- Trust and confidence must be built. Citizens need to believe they have a chance to comfortably retire and that their children will not have to leave Oregon for work elsewhere. They must have confidence that the region can invest in the economy and yet preserve quality-of-life assets such as great schools, open spaces and affordable, available housing. Businesses, government and citizens must build a new trust and work together to achieve the right outcomes, even when they may not always agree on how to get there.
Other economic strategies are required. But without question, the Portland area must commit to immediate and bold action. If this region loses the economic race, its citizens will be condemned to mediocre jobs, declining livability and inadequate public services.